6. 15 Tips and Tricks for Using Excel More Effectively

I hope everyone is having a great day. Mine started out on a down note with the Colts losing to the Ravens, plus I am feeling a bit under the weather. I definitely still wanted to get out a blog today and was actually able to learn quite a few things aimlessly surfing the web while stuck in bed with tea all day. Since I am also posting this from my phone (I really do love technology SO much), I figured I would post about something quick that didn’t require much formatting.

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Aside from the web design business I am trying to get started, I also do quite a bit of freelancing as a writer and as a virtual assistant. As an assistant I do a LOT of work with data entry and data editing, so I use Microsoft Office, especially Excel, on a daily basis. A few weeks ago, one of the tasks I was working on was to convert 100 url’s into hyperlinks within an Excel spreadsheet. As you may or may not know, to covert a URL to a link you highlight the URL, copy it, right click it and then select the hyperlink options, paste the URL into the box and then convert it. A pretty simple process if you are using keyboard shortcuts like Ctrl-c and v, but over a 100 links it was quite a tedious task. I figured there had to be some way to convert them all into links since all of the url’s were right there. Finally after a little but of Googling I found a macro that allowed me to highlight the column and hit one button to make them all links. Ever since then I have been looking for tips an tricks to make these tasks easier and I thought I would share the link of new ones that I learned today.

Some of these I already knew, but a lot of them were really great ideas that I hadn’t thought of and will definitely be using. So without further ado, head on over to TechRadar and see if you can pick up some handy tips and tricks. Also, feel free to leave me a comment/tweet/Facebook post about your favorite time saving or just plain awesome Excel tricks.

5. New Social Media Tool: Hootsuite

I have always maintained a MySpace or Facebook profile because I felt obligated to ‘go along with the crowd’, but it wasn’t until recently that I decided I really needed to start taking advantage of the different social media outlets and all of the great tools that are available. Between trying to blog everyday and start up our webdesign business it is important to be as active in these communities as possible. My goal is to start using and learning one new social media tool each week, and hopefully I will be able to use them to develop this blog, and my business. The first tool I started learning about today is Hootsuite. I have been hearing about it for a while, but had been resistant to start using it.

Tool: Hootsuite

Where to get it: http://hootsuite.com/

What they offer: Hootsuite has three different plans, their basic free plan, a pro plan for $9.99 and an Enterprise plan which you have to request a demo of and is for much larger companies. Obviously, I don’t have the need (yet) for the pro version, so I decided to learn about the Basic Package. This package includes, HootSuite Conversations, 5 social profiles, quick reports, message scheduling, unlimited apps and 2 RSS/Atom feeds.

Which accounts you can use it with:
You can add 5 profiles from your Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, foursquare, WordPress, MySpace, or mixi accounts.

Getting Started: I just started by linking my Twitter and Facebook profiles, which was really easy.

The interface is really simple; each profile gets its own tab which is laid out in columns, with recent posts, tweets, statuses, etc. On the Twitter tab you can easily see any mentions of you which makes it easy to monitor the effectiveness if you are using Twitter is a marketing tool.

Favorite Feature: The main reason I had kept hearing about HootSuite, is because you can use it to schedule posts to happen at a specific time, and you can also schedule in bulk if you are a Pro member. You can access the bulk schedule feature from the toolbar on the left hand side, within Publisher (the icon looks like a paper airplane). To schedule a regular post you just start typing in the post bar at the top of the post. Once you have typed your message click the calendar icon and you can set the time and date for your Tweet/Facebook post etc. to go out. You can also set up auto scheduling to optimize the impact of your message.

Overall: I definitely think I will continue to use HootSuite to manage my social media profiles. I like the ease of use, and I have always thought how nice it would be to schedule my posts to go out at a better time. I definitely recommend checking it out if you have been resistant to social media tools in the past, it’s a good starting point.

What social media tools do you use and love? There are hundreds of articles about the ‘best’ tools, but it makes it hard to figure out which ones are the best, and which overlap others. Let me know which one I should try out next Saturday! Also make sure you follow 365 new things on Facebook and Twitter so you can check out my progress.

Thank you to webtreats for the photo above.

4. Tax information you should start tracking in January

Before buying a house in 2011, my taxes were simple and required little to no thought.

1. Get W-2(s) in the mail
2. Get Financial Aid form in the mail
3. Sign up for some online tax preparation service
4. Plug in numbers from said forms
5. Wait for the return

However, with the house purchase (not to mention moving from a state with no state tax to California), I now have to do this scary thing called itemizing, and I’m realizing I did NOT prepare for this very well. Since we are at the start of a new year, I decided it would be a good idea to find out what records I should start keeping today to make my life easier next year. These are the most important things you should keep/file/do something with, and how they can help you come next tax season.

Medical expenses

What you need to claim them: Itemize your deductions (unless you are self employed).

Qualifying Deductions: Health insurance premiums that you pay out of pocket are all potentially deductible. Medical expenses must exceed 7.5% of your AGI before the give you a benefit, or if you are self-employed and not covered by an employer-paid plan you can deduct 100% of insurance premiums.

Childcare expenses

What you need to claim them: You and or your spouse must both have earned income, unless your spouse is your disabled dependent.

Qualifying Deductions: Expenses that allowed you and your spouse, if applicable, to work or look for work. The credit is only available for childcare provided for a child under 13 who you claim as a dependent.

Work-related expenses that you are not reimbursed for

What you need to claim them: Itemize your deductions; Keep your receipts.

Qualifying Deductions: “The cost of tools, equipment,supplies, required uniforms that are unsuitable for wear outside of work, protective gear, professional dues such as union dues or membership to professional organizations, subscriptions to professional journals, and even expenses you pay when looking for a new job in your current field.” Other situational deductions include, training and education related to your field of work, business use of your home and mileage driven for business use (but not commuting).

Self-employment expenses

What you need to claim them: Be self-employed, keep receipts of your bills and purchases

Qualifying Deductions: “…materials, supplies, marketing, office expenses, insurance, and travel can be deducted when you file your income taxes. Certain utilities, vehicle expenses, and expenses for operating a business from your home may also qualify.”

Charitable expenses

What you need to claim them: Itemize your deductions.

Qualifying Deductions: The value of your donated items can be deducted. This is something I often forget to get a written receipt for, and if you get audited, you won’t be able to keep these deductions. You can get a list of common items values on the Salvation Army’s website.

Miscellaneous expenses

There are other expenses you may be able to deduct depending on your particular situation, so if you think a purchase you are making will be tax deductible, make sure to keep the receipt and paper work until you find out one way or the other. Some of these include tax on large purchases (cars, RV’s etc.), educator expenses, points on refinancing and other situations.

This information and more can be found at MSN Money and in this article from Turbo Tax.

3. Zesty Slow Cooker Chicken Barbecue

For some reason my slow cooker often sits in the cupboard gathering dust, so I decided today that I would try out a new recipe for zesty slow cooker chicken barbecue. I found the recipe on allrecipes.com a while back, but I hadn’t got the chance to try it out yet. The nice thing about slow cookers is that many recipes, like this one, require dumping a bunch of ingredients in the cooker and setting the timer for around 4-8 hours. You do definitely need to plan these meals out in advance so you make sure you get them started in time….unless you like to eat after 10 pm once you remember to start the timer at 6. This recipe was super simple and it has given me a lot of ideas for slow cooker meals to do in the future.

Zesty Slow Cooker Chicken sandwich

Ingredients:

6 frozen skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

1 (12 ounce) bottle barbecue sauce

1/2 cup Italian salad dressing

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Directions:

Place chicken in a slow cooker. In a bowl, mix the barbecue sauce, Italian salad dressing, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce. Pour over the chicken.

Cover, and cook 3 to 4 hours on High or 6 to 8 hours on Low.

Seriously. Two directions, that’s it. As you can tell from the picture, you can shred the chicken and put it on a bun, which is actually the way I chose to do it. Once the chicken has cooked for that long it is pretty much already shredding on its own; however, I found the easiest way to shred the chicken was to take two forks and pull them in opposite directions across the chicken; it will come right apart. You may want to do this and then let the chicken cook for another 5-10 minutes so that the inside of the chicken can take on the sauces flavors. I also added some additional barbecue sauce at this point. For the buns I think you could pretty much put this on anything and it would be really good. I used ciabatta rolls and toasted them in the oven with a little melted garlic and butter brushed on the tops.

Overall, I would definitely do this recipe again. I probably would have used a touch more Italian dressing for the extra zest, but other than that, I wouldn’t make any major changes. I think next time I will try this with pork, since I am a sucker for a good pulled pork sandwich. What are your favorite slow cooker recipes? I would love to try out some more, and see how it goes. If you make this recipe, let me know how it turned out and what delicious updates you made!

Thank you to allrecipes.com for the recipe and picture.

2. Everything About Website Creation, Web Hosting and Reseller Hosting

Got ya! While I would love to report that I was able to spend my day learning everything there is to know about the subjects in the title in just one day, what I really learned was how to even BEGIN to learn about these things. One would think that with the overwhelming need for a website in business today, that it would be pretty easy to get one up and running; to this I say “ha ha ha ha ha hahahahahaha ha. ha. ha.” Seriously. The amount of coherent, BEGINNER oriented information out there is next to none. While looking for information about best web hosting sites and what to know about them, I uncovered website after website, forum after forum with instructions such as: “If you wish to publish your website/data worldwide, you need to contact Web Host. The company that provides web hosting services are call as Web Host.” Call me dense, but I struggle to find this little gem of information helpful.

All of that being said, I did manage to stumble around enough to figure out a few things. I’ve decided to just go with it and try to teach myself as I go. So let’s just call this ‘Everything About Website Creation, Web Hosting and Reseller Hosting Part One-of-who-knows-how-many. In fact, this inspires me to designate my first weekly installation: Website Wednesday’s. Without further ado, here are some things that I actually learned, instead of what I did not:

Step 1: get a domain name. This can be done through a variety of websites, most notably GoDaddy.com. You may have seen their somewhat racy ads like this Superbowl commercial. I ended up going with Go Daddy to buy my domain name because their site was the easiest to navigate and if the .com I was looking for wasn’t available or was too expensive, they give you some alternatives to look at. For example, if AwesomeBusinessName.com isn’t available, you might be able to register AwesomeBusinessName.biz or Awesome-Business-Name.com. Go Daddy always seems to be running some sort of promotion too, which will help save you some money on the domain name. For the New Year all ‘.com’ domains were on sale for $9.99 instead of $14.99, but I also checked retailmenot.com and found a code valid through January 4th 2013 that let me get mine for just $.99/year, so make sure you check around for coupon codes before you buy at their so-called ‘special’ price.

Step 2: decide how you much control you want over the design of your website. If you are looking to just have a few basic pages with information and details about your business, the web site hosting packages that sites like Godaddy.com, hostgator.com, site5.com usually include the hosting of your site and some basic design templates so you can manufacture a passable generic site. Trying to compare all of these options definitely made my head spin, so you may want to check out a few of the reputable reviews that can be found at Lifehacker, cNet or another ranking from a site that you have heard of. The biggest problem I encountered when researching web hosts was that because the hosts actually host websites as a business, many of the ‘reviews’ are just sites being run by the web host to promote them as a number one ranked company.

Personally, for me, my end goal is to build my website using Dreamweaver and ultimately start a Web Design company. For this reason I am oriented myself more with reseller web hosting. Many of the big name hosting companies also sell reseller hosting packages, what is what I am messing with now. Basically what this means is that instead of paying a company 5 dollars per month to put my site onto a small section of their much larger servers, I can pay a monthly service fee that gives me access to my own server. Then, depending on the size of the server I rent, I can put my website in the space, as well as x number of other people’s websites. This will allow me to build someone a website, the actually design and layout of the pages, and then host it for them as well. Right now I am doing a one month free trial of site5.com’s reseller web hosting basic package while I learn more about the design of web pages in Dreamweaver and to actually host sites with the tools that they give me.

In the next few weeks I am hoping to post about creating packages in WHM, selling web hosting packages, and building sites in Dreamweaver and then actually publishing them to the web. For now, this is pretty much all Greek to me, but I feel like I can learn these things now that I actually know what specific things I need to learn. Eventually I would like to put together a start to finish guide for making an amazing website that doesn’t require you to decode every couple of sentences with a web site building dictionary, so stay tuned for that.

If you already have an amazing website, or are a web host reseller, please leave any tips, tricks and great resources in the comments. Also, if you too are trying to get a website up and running, but you are getting stuck on the logistics, ask your question in the comments and maybe someone else can answer your question, or I can answer it in a future Website Wednesday post.

1. How to make three stone drop ring earrings

Last year I started to dip my toe into crafts and DIY, trying to decorate and maintain our new house, but on a very limited budget. Every time I went to Michael’s to pick up craft supplies, however, I always had a hard time pulling myself away from the huge wall of beads. As many people who know me can attest, I like anything that is organized and color coordinated, so the jewelery making section there is right up my alley. Unfortunately, I have never really experimented with jewelery making, and the few books I had looked at were very overwhelming with all the supplies that you need to get started. I finally decided while in the store yesterday that it was time to take the leap and make a small investment and try some things out. I initially had this project from Michael’s in mind, but I couldn’t find a similar bead, and the basic bare bones instructions were overwhelming for me as a first timer. So naturally, I did what I think I will probably end up doing a lot this year, and winged it. I wanted to start out with just the basics to see whether or not I could even pull it off, so for a little over $10 including excess supplies, here is how it went:

Materials:

Earrings-Materials

2 Ear Wires
6 Jump rings (I used the smallest, but they have several sizes if you want more spacing or have larger beads.)
6 Beads of your choice, pictured are 10mm amethyst wire wrap glass
*Note: For this particular method, it is probably best to use beads that can be attached directly to the rings, rather than threaded, unless you are more familiar with using wire.
1 pair of pliers small enough to work with opening and closing the drops rings of your choice

Once I got all of the materials together, I found it was much easier to figure out how to put the whole thing together once I laid it out and got a feel for the finished product.

Design Layout

Steps:

Start by opening one of the drop rings where the ends meet. This is probably easiest with two pliers to pull in opposite directions. I only had one pair of pliers so I closed the nose of the pliers, stuck it in the ring and slowly opened the pliers until there was enough space in the drop ring. You don’t want to open the ring too wide, especially if they are smaller, because it will make it harder to close without your beads falling off.

On the first ring put the ear wire and your first bead in the opening of the ring. The least frustrating way I found to do that was to hold the bottom of the ring (opposite the open end) with the pliers, then put the beads onto the ring by hand.

Open Drop Circle

Now that your beads are on the ring, use the pliers to close the ring. Make sure it is closed well enough that the beads won’t fall off.

Open the second drop ring and attach the first bead to a second bead. If your beads have a front and a back (like the Michael’s project for example), make sure you place them onto the ring so that the beads will be facing the correct direction. Repeat this with the third ring and attach the third bead. Of course, if you have smaller beads or want longer earrings, just continue attaching them with the rings until you like how they look. Here is the final product:

Finished-Earrings

Finished-Earring_worn

Do you have experience making earrings? Feel free to share your favorite projects, tips, tricks and can’t live without tools. I definitely want to try working with wire and maybe a jig. Let me know what you think!

Thank you to Moon Stars and PaperBeads for the featured image.

Happy New Year

If you’re like me, you waited until the very last-minute to come up with your New Year’s resolution. (I thought about making mine to work on procrastination….but I’ll save that for next year). In fact, the last couple years, I haven’t made a resolution at all. After all, what is the point of resolving to do something if you have to schedule its start date in the first place. However, as I look back on the past two years I am realizing that I haven’t accomplished everything that I want to accomplish and I feel like it is time to change that. Sure, I have hit milestones that I am proud of, in 2011 I bought a house, and in 2012 I finished my Bachelor’s degree and paid off my first car 100% on my own; and yet, overall, I don’t really feel like I have moved forward with my long-term goals. I am hoping by setting my resolution this year, it will help me track, measure, and accomplish a goal that will help me gain skills and learn more about what I want out of my five and ten-year plans.I think learning something new and taking the time to actually process what it is that I am learning about will become an invaluable tool in deciding what will truly make me happy in the long-term. The internet is a wealth of information and I think it is time to harness that information and become a more well-rounded person. I hope you will follow this blog and help not only keep me accountable, but yourself as well for whatever your resolutions are, and that we can all share the knowledge that we gain over these next 365 days.

Once I get this blog up and going….and power past all the reasons for breaking resolutions; I plan to have a more structured system, one day a week devoted to crafts and DIY, perhaps a ‘Financial Friday’, something like that. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them! I have a huge-to-the-point-of-detrimental list of interests, hobbies and things I think are cool, so the sky is really the limit on what I can learn this year. The amount of information floating around out there is quite overwhelming, and I welcome ideas for how I should tackle this resolution. I hope every has a happy New Year, and be safe!

Thank you to christmasstockimages.com for the featured image.